Netball: Fast Ferns make up for slow start

Bailey Mes of New Zealand takes a pass in front of Vangetee Williams of Jamaica in their Fast5...
Bailey Mes of New Zealand takes a pass in front of Vangetee Williams of Jamaica in their Fast5 Netball World Series game at Vector Arena in Auckland. Photo by Getty
New Zealand's first foray into Fast5 netted mixed results, with the Fast Ferns picking up a draw and win in their opening two matches, but wowing the crowd with their array of tricks.

A 31-23 win over Australia in last night's final game went some way in making up for a slow start to the evening, in which they drew with Jamaica.

The 38-38 draw wasn't the only shock result from the opening night's action at Vector Arena, with Australia slumping to a 33-15 loss to Malawi in its second match-up.

World champion in the long form of the game, Australia has struggled with Fast5 format with the new rules rewarding high-risk play, which is at odds with the Diamonds' preference for structure. Australia fell to England 29-27 in its opener, before it was upstaged by a dazzling long-range shooting display from the Malawi Queens, led by star shooter Mwai Kumwenda.

The African side looked set to go to the top of the leaderboard after the first day, with the Queens in control of their second match against Jamaica, holding a five-point advantage with 30 seconds to go. But poor option-taking from Malawi at the death gave Jamaica one last roll of the dice and the Sunshine Girls came up trumps, with Jhanielle Fowler landing a "super shot", which was worth six points in their powerplay quarter.

New Zealand shooter Maria Tutaia said the newly revamped rules, which features three different scoring zones, means that upset results will be a feature of the tournament.

"In this competition it's anyone's ballgame, especially with the three-pointers and the two-pointers, no lead is really safe," said Tutaia after her side also came undone by the Jamaicans' clutch shooting.

While the other top nations are using the tournament as an opportunity to expose their youngsters to the international environment, Waimarama Taumaunu selected virtually a full-strength line-up for the Auckland tournament.

Taumaunu's advice to her side heading into the weekend was to enjoy themselves and be creative - an instruction the Ferns keenly grasped in last night's opener.

For periods of their two matches the Ferns were like the Harlem Globetrotters of netball, with their full range of trickery on display.

There were long bombs delivered into the circle with pinpoint precision, some exceptional long-range shooting, and the crowd favourite "Harrison Hoist".

But the Ferns could not quite find the right balance between when to go for the high-risk play and when to opt for safety in their opening match against Jamaica.

The Kiwi side trailed 27-26 heading into the final spell, but with New Zealand saving its powerplay quarter - during which scoring is doubled - for the fourth quarter, the Ferns still looked in control of proceedings.

But New Zealand failed to make the most of its advantage, with Jamaica learning its lesson from their first-up loss to South Africa, and defending resolutely to starve New Zealand of possession during its powerplay quarter.

- Dana Johannsen


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